Grace and James Weldon Johnson

Grace and James Weldon Johnson

~ James Weldon Johnson ~
A Chronology (1871-1938)


1871--Born June 17 to James and Helen Louise Dillet Johnson in Jacksonville, Florida.

1884-Makes trip to New York City.

1886-Meets Frederick Douglass in Jacksonville.

1887-Graduates from Stanton School in Jacksonville.  Enters Atlanta University Preparatory Division.

1890-Graduates from Atlanta University Preparatory Division.  Enters Atlanta University's freshman class.

1891-Teaches school in Henry County, Georgia, during the summer following his freshman year.

1892-Wins Atlanta University Oratory Prize for "The Best Methods of Removing the Disabilities of Caste from the Negro."

1893-Meets Paul Laurence Dunbar at the Chicago World's Fair.

1894-Receives B. A. degree with honors from Atlanta University.  Delivers the valedictory speech, "The Destiny of the Human Race."  Tours New England with the Atlanta University Quartet for three months.  Is appointed principal of the Stanton School in Jacksonville.

1895-Founds The Daily American, an afternoon daily newspaper serving Jacksonville's black population.

1896-Expands Stanton to high school status, making it the first public high school for blacks in the state of Florida.

1898-Becomes the first African American to be admitted to the Florida bar. Opens a law office with J. Douglas Wetmore.

1900-Writes the lyrics to Lift Every Voice and Sing with music by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson.

1901-Elected president of the Florida State Teachers Association.  Nearly lynched in a Jacksonville park.  This near lynching made him realize that he could not advance in the South.

1902-Resigns as principal of Stanton School.  Moves to New York to form musical trio with his brother Rosamond and the famous vaudevillian Bob Cole.  Becomes the chief lyricist in the Broadway musical team, Cole and the Johnson Brothers.  (The trio will write nine songs for Broadway productions.)

1903-Attends graduate school at Columbia University, where he studies with Brander Matthews, professor of dramatic literature.

1904-Writes two songs for Theodore Roosevelt's presidential campaign.  Becomes a member of the National Business League, an organization founded by Booker T. Washington.  Receives honorary degree from Atlanta University.  During this time, he meets W. E. B. Du Bois then a professor at Atlanta University.

1905-Cole and Johnson Brothers go on European tour.  

1906-Accepts membership in the Society of International Law.  Is appointed U. S. Consul to Venezuela by President Theodore Roosevelt.

1909-Is promoted to U. S. Consul to Corinto, Nicaragua.  Is engaged to Grace Elizabeth Nail in October.

1910-Marries Grace Nail, daughter of wealthy New York real estate developer and tavern owner John Bennett Nail, on February 3 at the Nails' family home in New York City.

1912-Publishes anonymously The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, probably the earliest first-person fictional narrative by an African American.

1913-Resigns from the consular service on account of race prejudice and party politics.

1914-Accepts position as contributing editor to The New York Age.  With Irving Berlin, Victor Herbert, and John Philip Sousa, becomes a founding member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).  Joins Sigma Pi Phi fraternity and Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.

1915-Becomes member of the NAACP.  Puts into English the libretto of Goyescas, the Spanish grand opera, which is produced at the Metropolitan Opera.

1916-Attends the NAACP conference in Amenia, New York, at the estate of J. E. Spingarn.  Delivers speech, "A Working Programme for the Future."  Joins the staff of the NAACP in the position of field secretary.

1917-Publishes volume Fifty Years and Other Poems.  Publishes poem "Saint Peter Relates an Incident of the Resurrection Day."  With W. E. B. Du Bois, leads over 15,000 marchers down Fifth Avenue to protest lynchings and riots.  Becomes acting secretary of the NAACP.  Supports U. S. entry into World War I and fights against the atrocities perpetrated against black soldiers.  Meets Walter White in Atlanta and persuades him to join the staff of the NAACP.  Attends conference of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society in Bellport, New York, gives talk on the contribution of the Negro to American culture.  With W. E. B. Du Bois, becomes a charter member for the Civic Club, a liberal club that grew to be a strong influence in the life of black New Yorkers.

1918-Is responsible for an unprecedented increase in NAACP membership in one year, particularly in the South, making the NAACP a national power.

1919-Participates in converting the National Civil Liberties Bureau into a permanent organization, the American Civil Liberties Union.

1920-NAACP board of directors name him secretary (chief executive officer), making him the first African American to serve in that position.  Publishes "Self Determining Haiti" which draws on his earlier investigation of the American occupation there.

1922-Publishes The Book of American Negro Poetry.

1924-Assists several writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

1925-Receives the NAACP's Spingarn Medal.  Co-authors with J. Rosamond Johnson The Book of American Negro Spirituals.

1926-Co-authors with J. Rosamond Johnson The Second Book of American Negro Spirituals.  Purchases an old farm in the Massachusetts Berkshires and builds a summer cottage called Five Acres.

1927-During the height of the Harlem Renaissance, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is reprinted.  (The spelling "coloured" was used to enhance British sales.)  God's Trombones is published.

1928-Receives Harmon Award for God's Trombones.  Receives D. Litt.
from Howard University and Talledega College.

1929-Takes a leave of absence from the NAACP. Travels to Japan to attend the Third Japanese Biennial Conference on Pacific Relations.  Receives Julius Rosenwald Fellowship to write Black Manhattan.

1930-Black Manhattan, the story of African Americans in New York from the seventeenth century to the 1920s is published.  Resigns from the NAACP December 17.

1931-Publishes the revised edition of The Book of American Negro Poetry.  NAACP honors him by hosting a testimonial dinner in New York City attended by over 300 guests.  Is appointed vice president and board member of the NAACP.  Accepts Fisk University appointment as the Adam K. Spence Professor of Creative Literature.

1933-Publishes autobiography, Along This Way.  Attends the second NAACP Amenia Conference.

1934-Is appointed visiting professor, fall semester, at New York University, becoming the first African American to hold such a position at the institution.  Receives the Du Bois Prize for Black Manhattan as the best book of prose written by an African American during a three-year period.  Publishes Negro Americans, What Now?

1935-Publishes Saint Peter Relates an Incident:  Selected Poems.

1936-Board of Directors of Atlanta University offers him the position of president of the university.  He declines the offer.

1938-Dies June 26 as a result of an automobile accident in Wiscasset, Maine, nine days after his sixty-seventh birthday.  Funeral held at the Salem Methodist Church in Harlem on Thursday, June 30.  Is cremated.

*Mrs. James Weldon Johnson (Grace Nail Johnson) died on November 1, 1976, at home in New York City.  Grace and James Weldon Johnson were interred together by Ollie Jewel Sims Okala on November 19, 1976, in the John B. Nail family plot in the Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.